Monday, May 9, 2011

Shut Up and Listen. (Or: Potatoes, Two Ways)

Dear Boo,

As of last week, I am officially done with school. On May 18th I will be donning cap and gown (the privilege of which cost me $68. Ah higher education) and walking with the rest of my fellow soon-to-be alumni towards... what? A lifetime of being overworked and underpaid? A field that is undervalued and overly relied-upon? Budgets which are constantly being slashed, programs cut, and policies which undermine and make futile any well-meaning attempt to help? Do I sound cynical? Well, naturally. I'm writing to you from the limbo between academia and the real world, poised between two lives (who in their right mind becomes an actor and then chooses social work as a back-up plan? And then decides she likes both too much to leave either one and attempts to find a balance?) and between excitement and terror, inspiration and ambivalence. So forgive the pessimism. The truth is, the past two years have been thrilling. I've been gnawing my nails while writing this because I can't seem to quite put into words what my experience has been or how I feel about it. (Which is ironic since in both my acting training and social work education, there's been an emphasis on being able to identify and express feelings. oops.) And I have no wise words or lively illuminating anecdotes to offer. Except this.

One of the most important things I learned in school is this: Shut up and listen. 'When you don't know what to say,' we were told over and over, 'don't say anything.' 'If you really want to help someone? Shut up and listen.' It's a good bit of advice for all of us, really. And while I wait in this limbo of unemployment and indecision, while I try to figure out what the hell comes next, where I should be heading and how I'm going to pay for it all, I'm going to give it a shot. I will shut up and listen to my heart and gut and in the great social work tradition of optimism and hope, I will trust that whatever bubbles to the surface will guide me. And maybe, one of these days, while peeling potatoes over the sink, I will be listening to the shhhppp of the slicer, the sound of the traffic, and the hum of my own thoughts, and it'll all suddenly make sense. So excuse me. I'm going to shut up now and peel some potatoes.

The Mouse

In honor of my two careers, my two minds about graduating, and my general indecision, I offer you potatoes, two ways. The first is an easy, decadent, smothered version I found on Ruth Reichl's blog (now there's a career I could get behind!) and made for Easter dinner, but which would be the perfect antidote to any day the unemployed-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life blues hit. The second, is a first on this blog, a recipe from the Fiance. I came home the last day of my field work at NY State Psychiatric Institute to find him making a lovely celebratory dinner. He said he planned to make potato chips in the oven, and I was feeling so grateful for all the love and support and learning in my life and so pleased that I could sit back with a glass of wine and wait for dinner to be served, that I bit my tongue and did not tell him what I was thinking, which is that there was no way those little discs of potato would emerge from the oven alive. I was certain they would instantly burn to a crisp and refuse to part from the surface of the pan. How wrong I was. They were a revelation--crispy, crunchy, satisfying, and relatively healthy. If you've ever met me, you know potato chips are my absolute favorite desert-island food. There is nary a life decision to be made that isn't made better by a chip or two.

Gratin Dauphinois
via Ruth Reichl, via Jacques Pepin

2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
3 1/2 cups of milk, cream or a mixture of the two
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a bit of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup coarsely grated Gruyère (or other cheese - any one will do).

Preheat oven to 400°F. Generously butter a shallow baking dish.
Put the potatoes into a pot with the milk or cream, garlic, salt, and pepper and bring just to a boil. Pour the contents of the pot into the buttered baking dish, grate the nutmeg over the top and sprinkle on the cheese. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is browned and all the liquid has been absorbed by the potatoes. Allow this to stand for 15 minutes (or more) before serving.

Oven Potato Chips
by the Fiance

Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes, how ever many you want

Some olive oil

Good amount of salt

Black pepper

Garlic powder (or other seasonings as you choose)

Using a mandolin, slice potatoes very thin. Pat them dry. Place them in a ziploc bag with a generous amount of olive oil, the pepper and garlic powder. Toss together until well coated and distributed. Lightly oil a couple of baking sheets. Lay potato rounds in a single layer on pans. Put in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes, but check as you go so they don't burn. Timing will vary depending on your pans, the thickness of the chips, and the oven. Sprinkle with salt while hot. Let cool in single layer on rack or plate.


Anonymous said...

I love this post and am " at one" with you and the potato chip thing....seriously, maybe it's a family trait ( the crunch).
Congrats on the graduation....a wonderful accomplishment and will most def celebrate with you soon. Love, A

Anonymous said...

To your readers who don't post comments but who are reading them, please forgive this very public uncool post but how can I not respond 'out loud' here, to qvell and beam and share with you how thrilling it was to read this, how moved I am to see in print that not only have you honored both your paternal Irish heritage and maternal passion for the potato in this post, but that you have managed somehow in these two years to do all that you have chronicled here, in this blog - the writing, the acting, the mentoring, the working, the learning, the blogging, the engaging, the tastings, the gowning, the choosing, the writing, the writing, the entertaining,the dinners the listening, the supporting, the loving and all and everything and more so beautifully. Oh dear gods above, you have done well.

The Mouse said...

Apologies to those of you who commented (or tried to comment) on this post. It appears blogger has chosen to delete the comments that appeared. Sorry. And much love to those of you that pipe up and respond here.